Remand Centre staff latest group to demand H1N1 shots sooner than later

The president of a union representing Red Deer Remand Centre staff wants workers put on the high priority list for those receiving H1N1 vaccinations when the immunization clinics resume sometime this week.

The president of a union representing Red Deer Remand Centre staff wants workers put on the high priority list for those receiving H1N1 vaccinations when the immunization clinics resume sometime this week.

Guy Smith, the president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said many of the union members work in very crowded environments.

“They work with a population that may be more susceptible to contracting infectious diseases such as H1N1.

“And in those very crowded environments, if it’s in there it’s going to spread very quickly because there is obviously a lot of close contact between the workers and their clients,” Smith said.

He said the union is concerned if those workers are out sick it could be a public security issue because there might not be enough workers in the jails to look after the inmates.

“I’m not interested in laying blame,” Smith said. “More importantly is to come to some solution that benefits everyone. We’re in a crisis and it’s time for people to work together to come up with some common solutions and I think one of those would be to have staff inoculated.”

Alberta Health officials announced on Saturday that H1N1 immunization clinics would be suspended until further notice after they found out the province would receive less H1N1 vaccine than was anticipated. Clinics are expected to re-open sometime this week, but the vaccine will only be available to those at greatest risk, including pregnant women, children from age six months to less than five years, people under 65 with chronic health conditions, those in remote and isolated communities and health-care workers.

Greg Adair, deputy chief of EMS with the City of Red Deer, said all health-care workers — including fire-medics — were allowed to get the H1N1 vaccination last week. As health-care workers, it is expected fire-medics will continue to be on the priority list of those receiving the H1N1 vaccine this week.

“We’re gotten certainly some of our people through. But we’re in the same boat as everybody else where nobody is getting them right now,” Adair said.

Adair doesn’t know how many EMS staff have been immunized, but he hopes a great number have been. He said absentee rates of workers has been status quo so far. “We haven’t seen any spikes or anything like that,” he said.

Last week, the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division saw all of the schools, except for the one in Rocky Mountain House, experiencing an absentee rate of more than 10 per cent. Jeanne Davis, Red Deer Catholic communications director, said as of Monday only six or seven of the schools had more than 10 per cent of the student population missing.

Red Deer Public School District officials weren’t immediately available for comment, but last week the Red Deer Public School District board heard the absenteeism rate among students was at 17 per cent.

Larry Jacobs, superintendent of Wolf Creek Public Schools, said around 15 out of the 27 schools in the division were reporting an absenteeism rate of more than 10 per cent last week. Wolf Creek Public Schools division takes in an area as far west as Eckville to around Alix and from Ponoka to Blackfalds. Jacobs said last week six schools had more than 20 per cent of students missing and one had more than 25 per cent of the student population away due to illness. He’ll know how Monday went today.

The Wild Rose Public School Division has also seen high student absentee rates. Last week, David Thompson High School in Condor had 25 to 31 per cent each day missing class due to illness and Caroline School, which has students between kindergarten to Grade 12, saw anywhere from 28 to 36 per cent of students absent each day. Other schools in the Wild Rose School Division — which includes schools in Rocky Mountain House, Drayton Valley, Condor and Leslieville — had absentee rates from six per cent into the 15 per cent range.

“We certainly have been hit — some more than others,” said Brian Celli, the superintendent of the Wild Rose Public School Division. He said parents have been good for keeping their children home when they are sick.